Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

The hidden history of the world’s top offshore cryptocurrency tourist trap

By Adam Tooze

15 Jan 2023 · 23 min read

Editor's Note

An author explores how the Bahamas and the Caribbean region became "a Frankenstein laboratory of global capitalism". A fascinating long read from Foreign Policy.

On Jan. 3, as Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty in New York on charges stemming from the collapse of one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges, the FTX debacle became, once again, a U.S. story. The Bahamian backdrop to the last days of FTX has faded into the background. But the torrid affair between what was once touted as the leading edge of financial technology, or fintech, and the Bahamas—a nation of 400,000 people, spread over some 700 islands, 50 miles or so offshore of Florida—is not merely incidental. It highlights the way in which the wider Caribbean region has repeatedly functioned as a Frankenstein laboratory of global capitalism.

The Caribbean was the first region of the world to feel the full force of Western conquest and planation slavery. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Bahamas was a legendary base for piracy and smuggling. The 20th century brought the rise of American power and the struggles of the Cold War. Again and again, the fragile island chains have been wracked by hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes, all of which bring devastation but also prompt the churn of property and new waves of investment.

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